It is never a good situation to be in when someone may have to wonder whether or not a family member is addicted to alcohol or drugs. However, if you do find yourself in this situation, just know that you are not alone, as nearly 21 million Americans struggle with an active addiction in our world every day, but more importantly, know that it is never your fault. When someone in your family abuses drugs or alcohol, it not only affects them but everyone around them as well. Their addiction can cause financial, emotional, physical, psychological, and environmental effects on the people who care about them the most. If someone in your family was suffering from an illness, such as diabetes or heart disease, most wouldn’t hesitate on finding them help, the same goes for an addicted loved one.
Addiction is a brain disease characterized by the person’s lack of self-control overusing drugs or alcohol, even though they most likely have experienced some severe and negative consequences, like losing their job or ending up homeless. It is a mental illness that often times requires addiction treatment from a mental health professional. The repeated use of drugs and alcohol alters the way their brain operates, so even though a loved one may express the desire to never use drugs or alcohol again, most of the time they are completely unable to make the decision to stop on their own. There is hope for recovery, though, here are a few steps you can take if a family member is showing signs of having substance abuse problems.
Educate yourself about addiction:
One of the first steps to take when you believe a family member is suffering from an addiction is to educate yourself on the topic. As mentioned above, addiction is a disease. The more we understand on the subject, and exactly what your family member is suffering from, the easier we can accept what comes along with it. It is not necessarily their fault that they are unable to stop using drugs or alcohol, they need help and the tools for recovery.
Get help for yourself first:
It is often said that addiction is a family disease because it affects not only the person suffering but everyone around them. Having a relationship with an addict can be very overwhelming and stressful. Reach out to support groups like Al-Anon/Ala-teen/Nar Anon (12 step support groups for family members and friends of people who have an addiction to drugs or alcohol).
Always approach an addict with compassion:
It can be difficult to hide one’s resentment or anger from years of disappointment and hurt because of the addicted person’s actions but it is important to remember that your family member is sick. When it comes to someone being in an active addiction, they are not themselves, they are under the influence of very powerful mood-altering drugs. Addicts do not respond well to confrontation, approaching them with loving-kindness will help them listen to what you have to say, instead of wanting to run the other direction.
Try talking to your family member:
Sit down with your family member face to face and let them know you are concerned that they are suffering from a substance use disorder. Remember to remain compassionate but expect difficulties, such as;
- They may not agree they have a problem
- They may not want to change what they are doing
- They may be afraid of consequences like losing their job or going to jail
- They may be embarrassed and unwilling to discuss it with you
- They may be afraid to get help
Have information ready and available, such as inpatient and outpatient programs if they do agree to get help. If they refuse treatment ask if they will consider going to a support group for addicts, like Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) or Narcotics Anonymous (NA). If they refuse and act with anger or hostility, just reassure them that you are concerned about their wellbeing and that you will be taking further action to get them the help they need.
Stage an intervention:
Staging an intervention is one of the most effective ways of getting an addicted person help. An intervention is when friends and family members of an addict join forces together, with the help of a professional interventionist, in a carefully planned process to get someone to seek professional help for an addiction. An intervention typically includes these steps;
Make a plan-
Get help from a professional and form a planning group of family members and friends, try to have a good mix of people.
Find out the extent of the loved ones’ problem and research treatment programs and options for their specific problem.
Rehearse the intervention and decide on consequences-
Meet with the intervention team and decide on consequences (such as no more money or rides, they have to find a different place to live, no more contact, they can’t see their children, etc.) if they decide not to get treatment. Make notes on specific times their addiction has caused issues in your life so that they can’t deny they have a problem.
Hold the intervention-
Without telling the loved one why, have them meet the intervention team at the location and take turns expressing concern for the loved ones and specific times they have been hurt by the addict’s actions. Each person goes over specific changes they will make and consequences if the person refuses treatment.
If the person still chooses to not enter treatment, follow up with specific changes and consequences. If the addict’s way of life is taken away from them, they are more likely to get the help they need.
We hope that your loved one decides to get the help that they need, but setting healthy boundaries for yourself will only ensure that you are not enabling the addict to continue their behavior and that you are leading a healthy and fulfilling life.